With its mild, humid climate and famed welcoming southern hospitality, the Southeastern region is uniquely positioned to host athletes and their families for sporting events – and then entice them to stay for post-competition adventures. The favorable weather ensures the option of outdoor play year-round, while a list of record-breaking tourist attractions offers fun for all interests and ages.
What makes Foley, Alabama, such an attractive sports tourism destination?
The Foley Sports Tourism Complex, which includes 16 multi-purpose fields and a championship field with TV-ready lighting, is a hub for regional and national competitions including soccer, lacrosse, Ultimate and football.
The 90,000-square-foot Foley Event Center, featuring sport court flooring, regularly welcomes basketball, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, cornhole tournaments, trade and consumer shows and conventions. A 150-room hotel is adjacent to the center, and a range of additional accommodations is located within a few miles.
According to Don Dukemineer, the city’s deputy director of sports tourism, downtime is a figure of speech. Families may opt to experience Graham Creek Nature Preserve, The Park at OWA, Gulf Bowl, Tanger Outlets and an array of dining choices at more than 90 restaurants.
“You don’t have to go far for an experience you won’t forget,” he says.
Hoover Met Complex, Alabama
Twenty miles south of Birmingham, the Hoover Met Complex in Hoover, Alabama, boasts three distinct facilities.
At 155,000 square feet, the Finley Center is the most versatile space, accommodating 16 volleyball courts or 11 basketball courts adjacent to three meeting rooms, full-service food and beverage operations and the Hoover Climbing & Adventure area. There is also a 7,800-square-foot fitness rehabilitation center and cushioned, indoor walking track.
Hoover Met Stadium is home to the SEC Baseball Tournament, as well as football, soccer, beach volleyball and large-scale events.
The outdoor field area includes five NCAA regulation-size baseball/softball fields, five multi-purpose fields and a tennis complex with 16 hard courts. In addition, an on-site RV park accommodates 170 pull-through parking sites.
“Everyone is in shock and awe of the flexibility and diversity we bring to the table,” says John Sparks, general manager of the Hoover Met Complex, “and for good reason.”
Palm Beach County, Florida
Palm Beach County offers event organizers world-class competition and training facilities with easy access from Interstate 95, the Florida Turnpike and Palm Beach International Airport.
It isn’t surprising, then, that the area has hosted some of the most prestigious events in sports, such as The Honda Classic on the PGA TOUR. Spring training for the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals takes place at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, while the Houston Astros and Washington Nationals train at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.
Spanning nearly 250 acres, International Polo Club Palm Beach has accommodated 40 field hockey pitches and a 500-team lacrosse tournament, complete with a vendor village and trolley system. Other amenities include 47 miles of pristine beaches, fresh and saltwater fishing and more than 200 cultural offerings.
“The Palm Beach County Sports Commission is dedicated to providing an excellent experience and unsurpassed level of customer service, while inviting you to ‘Just Bring Your Game and Discover The Palm Beaches,’” says Scott Glinski, the commission’s senior marketing and communications manager.
Florida’s Sports Coast
With its range of sports complexes, vibrant culture, stunning nature and fun-filled adventures, Florida’s Sports Coast offers a time-out from the usual vacation routines.
AdventHealth Center Ice, the largest hockey complex in the Southeast, is home of the TORHS 2Hot4Ice Roller Hockey Tournament Series and 2018 U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team training program.
Off the ice, play time is still high-energy, with family-friendly, outdoor adventures and water activities. A sampling includes Giraffe Ranch and TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City, Lift Adventure Park in Hudson, Skydive City in Zephyrhills, kayaking in the Gulf of Mexico and leisurely beach days at Anclote Key.
With sand volleyball courts at SunWest Park in Hudson, nine world-class golf courses, 24 miles of coastline and plentiful fishing, boating, biking and pedestrian trails, there’s barely time to sleep.
“Win or lose,” says Sports Development and Tourism Manager Consuelo Sanchez, “you will enjoy our destination with service that is second to none.”
Situated along Route 400, dubbed the state’s “Hospitality Highway,” Cumming in Forsyth County, Georgia, is known for its convenient access to nearby Atlanta, top-ranked parks and recreation department and state-of-the-art sports facilities.
There are 24 synthetic turf fields and 32 multi-purpose fields for baseball, softball, football, lacrosse and soccer. The Cumming Aquatic Center hosts two year-round USA Swimming teams, a USA Diving team and the Forsyth Tritons Water Polo club.
The region is also known for its recreational and “staycation” opportunities, including hiking Sawnee Mountain and touring the Buford Trout Hatchery. With nearly 700 miles of shoreline and over 100 small islands, Lake Lanier offers fishing, boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and “glamping,” or camping beneath the Georgia pines with amenities reminiscent of a nice hotel room.
“We really do have it all,” says Michelle Daniels, director of tourism for Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, “which is why our slogan is ‘Come and play in our backyard.’”
Jefferson Parish, Louisiana
Offering first-class facilities for baseball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, lacrosse, wrestling, boxing, gymnastics and more, one clear appeal of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, is its diversity.
Pro sports fans get their fix at Ochsner Sports Performance Center, the practice facility of the New Orleans Saints, and Smoothie King Center, home of the New Orleans Pelicans. The AAA New Orleans Baby Cakes play at Shrine on Airline Stadium, and Archbishop Shaw Stadium recently welcomed NOLA Gold Rugby.
Exotic supercars aren’t just for millionaires at NOLA Motorsports Park, while Gretna BMX hosts races and a racing camp. Alario Center and Pontchartrain Convention and Civic Center feature a range of other sporting events, concerts and performances.
Angela Matherne, sales director for the Jefferson Convention and Visitors Bureau, says adults can “party like a rock star” in nearby New Orleans, or enjoy great music and cuisine at events like Jefferson Parish’s annual Family Gras without breaking the bank.
“Jefferson Parish is a warm, family-friendly destination,” she says, “with many reasons to keep coming back.”
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
With its picturesque coastline, family-friendly attractions, ample hotels and world-class sport venues, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a well-established home to large-scale youth and adult events such as baseball, fast-pitch softball and basketball.
High-profile events are also attracting fans nationwide, while providing significant television exposure. The Puerto Rico Invitational – which relocated to the HTC Center following Hurricane Maria in 2017 – led to ESPN’s agreement to host the Myrtle Beach Invitational in 2018-2020. Also in 2020, the inaugural Myrtle Beach Bowl will take place at Brooks Stadium on the campus of Coastal Carolina University.
According to Jonathan Paris, executive director of sports tourism for the Myrtle Beach Regional Sports Alliance, growing sports such as cornhole, cheer, dance, wrestling and gymnastics are also finding value in the region.
“With no end in sight for the explosive growth in sports tourism,” Paris says, “the Myrtle Beach area continues to be well positioned within the regional and national sports tourism event industry.”
While the distinctive University of Tennessee orange is ubiquitous throughout Knoxville, the city draws a range of sports aside from its beloved college teams.
Knoxville has welcomed top events like Bassmaster Elite and Bassmaster Classic, USA Cycling, the TYR Pro Swim Series, USA Diving AT&T National Championships, Ozone Invitational, Battle in Rocky Top National Championship, the Powerboat Superleague Classic on the Tennessee River and numerous AAU Junior Olympic Games.
The area also benefits from more than 100 sites on the National Register of Historic Places, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park — the most-visited national park in the U.S. — is just 30 miles away.
Knoxville is also convenient, since two-thirds of the American population resides within a day’s drive, according to Chad Culver, senior director of Visit Knoxville Sports Commission.
“Knoxville has all the resources, not to mention friendly Southern hospitality, to make any event successful,” says Culver. SDM